I came across an interesting question a few days ago. How do you grow as a writer? In other words, how do you continue learning?
A blurry photo of the one-room schoolhouse/church my grandmother taught at
The most common answers from writers typically include the following: writing groups, writer’s conferences, resource books, reading in your chosen field/genre, and support from other writers.
All of these are excellent ways to continue to improve. All of them, with the exception of conferences, have been beneficial to me personally. But of course I have to add to the list.
Editing teaches me a great deal. When I read what others write, as their editor, I have to take apart why something works and why it doesn’t. If I’m going to tell a writer something may not be working, I have to be prepared to show why not, and what can be done. This isn’t, by the way, changing the writer’s voice, but the underlying structure. I learn from this job, and when I go back to my writing, I pick out the places where I’ve done the same thing I just critiqued. Without the gift of editing for someone else, I wouldn’t see so clearly in my words. Not that I catch all the mistakes. I have an editor for that!
A mistake I learned from
Which brings me to the next point. When I send something off to my editor and it comes back all marked up, I know I’m going to learn a great deal. I may not be thrilled at first, but when I’m done the piece is much better and I’ll hopefully remember the lessons for the next time.
I also learn from talking to writers and readers at book events. What a great resource readers are! Especially when they give you honest feedback or when they tell you the part that resonated for them, or the part that dragged. I immediately want to read the section they refer to in order to find out why they reacted that way. I don’t always change anything because that same section, obviously, will get a multitude of different responses. But I’ll study the section to find out why. If nothing else, I can use that later to get a response I want.
Meeting regularly with my close writer friends is another way I learn, for obvious reasons. That works just like a writer’s group does. I prefer the one-on-one meeting, or with maybe three or four, rather than a large group. It’s easier to share in a more intimate setting.
The right intimate setting or ambience to learn in
I’ve recently signed up for an on-line course on character development that I hope to learn from. The last attempt, signing up for an on-line university course, was a dismal failure with no visible presence by professors or instructors. I’m hoping this course will be more fruitful.
This blog teaches in a small way because it makes me struggle to come up with something to talk about. I mean, everything that can be said about writing has been said already, and much better. So the blog forces me to write somewhat regularly, to think about what I want to say, and to limit the word count so I don’t write a novel.
People watching teaches me a great deal. Overheard conversations, watching body-language, and studying facial expressions gives me information for character development. I watch faces and ask myself how I would describe that nose, those eyebrows, that smile. Watching actors and actresses in movies also helps me figure out how to describe emotion without words.
I know there are many more things that teach me but if I keep going the blog post will become that novel. So how do you learn, no matter what your art form is? How do you keep learning, keep stretching, keep improving? I’d love to learn what works for you.